Scientists spot 'anomaly' beneath the moon's largest crater

Mysterious large mass discovered on Moon bewilders scientists: 'Whatever it is, wherever it came from'

Mysterious large mass discovered on Moon bewilders scientists: 'Whatever it is, wherever it came from'

Astronomers led by Peter B. James from Baylor University discovered the hidden feature by combining data from NASA's GRAIL lunar orbiter mission and the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to look at where regions of high gravity - and therefore mass - overlap with surface features like craters. All of that metal, and basically the entire area surrounding the mass and the crater, could tell them a lot about how the asteroid impact happened and what the solar system was like when it did. "That's roughly how much unexpected mass we detected", James said in a statement.

When it comes to the South Pole-Aitken basin, the topography is particularly striking.

If there is a large metallic object buried under the South Pole-Aitken basin, it could tell us something about the moon's interior.

James is one of a handful of U.S. scientists who announced their discovery in a study published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters. They used data from NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) mission.

The region, known as the South Pole-Aitken basin, is one of the largest known impact craters measuring about 1,600 miles (2,500 kilometers) in diameter. Beneath this basin lies a unusual anomaly-an excess of mass extending at least 300 kilometers down, more than 10 times the depth of the Earth's crust.

According to James, the dense substance "whatever it is, wherever it came from" is weighing down the crater floor by half a mile. James and his team surmise it could be metal embedded in the Moon's mantle from the asteroid impact that caused the crater some estimated 4 billion years ago.

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The research study titled "Deep Structure of the Lunar South Pole-Aitken Basin", was published last month in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

"We did the maths and showed that a sufficiently dispersed core of the asteroid that made the impact could remain suspended in the Moon's mantle until the present day, rather than sinking to the Moon's core", James said. This large mass may be a remnant of the asteroid that crashed into the Moon and formed the crater - which would also mean that it could be made up nearly entirely out of metal.

The simulations suggest that the material could be from the iron-nickel core of an asteroid, which, if dispersed into the upper mantle, could be weighing down the basin as seen in the spacecraft data.

Another explanation is that, following the impact that formed the basin, a huge ocean of metal-rich magma pooled inside of the lunar crust and solidified into a dense slab.

Finding out how the South Pole-Aitken basin formed is important to understanding the history of the moon and its evolution.

A growing scientific consensus believes the moon formed after Earth was hit by a planet the size of Mars billions of years ago, a hypothesis dubbed the giant impact hypothesis.

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